Fourth IABA Europe Conference Papers

Grief Interrupted: Writing My Father’s Life


  • G. Thomas Couser Hofstra University



Grief, memoir, genre, patriography, depression, immigration, life-writing ethics


In the fall of 1974, my mother died of ovarian cancer at the age of 65; about eight months later, my father succumbed to depression at 69. The job of cleaning out the house in which I had grown up fell to me. My labors were rewarded by the discovery of a trove of personal documents—mostly personal  letters— in my father’s closet. At the time, too traumatized to engage with them, I skimmed, sorted, boxed, and stored them. It took me more than thirty years to open that box and absorb its contents. My rediscovery of this archive significantly affected my relation to the field of life writing, to which I had devoted my academic career. It greatly enhanced my appreciation of correspondence: I finally “get” letters. And the rich material impelled me to compose a memoir of my father. Doing so made me face ethical issues from a novel perspective. Moreover, writing my father’s story has helped me understand how a traumatic sequence of events when I was 28 has directed and shaped my academic work from the beginning.


This article was submitted to the European Journal of Life Writing on August 29th 2015 and published on June 22nd 2016.

Author Biography

G. Thomas Couser, Hofstra University

G. Thomas Couser retired in 2011 from Hofstra University, where he was a professor of English and founding director of the Disability Studies Program. He is the author of American Autobiography: The Prophetic Mode (Massachusetts, 1979), Altered Egos: Authority in American Autobiography (Oxford, 1989), Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, and Life Writing (Wisconsin, 1997), Vulnerable Subjects: Ethics and Life Writing (Cornell, 2004), and Signifying Bodies: Disability in Contemporary Life Writing (Michigan, 2009), as well as about fifty articles or book chapters. His latest book, Memoir: An Introduction, will be published by Oxford University Press in November 2011. He is currently writing a book about contemporary American “patriography” (memoirs of fathers by sons and daughters) and a memoir of his own father.





Fourth IABA Europe Conference Papers